Crag Hotel, Penang Hill

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The Crag Hotel was once a famous hotel, presently a derelict structure, on a hill shoulder in Penang Hill, commanding a panoramic view of Penang Island from a height of 833 m. The hotel was established by the Sarkies Brothers.

To tell the story of the Crag Hotel, and having pooled together all my research material, I decided to tell also the story of the Sarkies Brothers.

Crag Hotel, Penang Hill
Crag Hotel, Penang Hill (5 March, 2005)

The Sarkies Brothers are ethnic Armenians who hailed from Isfahan, Iran. They arrived in Southeast Asia at the fourth quarter of the 19th century. There were four of them: Martin (1852-1912), Tigran (1861-1912), Aviet (1862-1923) and Arshak (1868-1931). They were involved in various trades but were not yet into the hotel line.

The idea to go into the hotel business came about in 1885, when the Sarkies brothers met the Khaw family, who had their hands in various enterprises all the way between Penang and Bangkok. Seeing that the hotel industry may be more profitable than his auctioneering business, 23-year-old Tigran rented a large bungalow at 1A Light Street, Penang, and named it the Eastern Hotel. It opened to guests on 15 April, 1884.

Seeing how well the business was running, eldest brother Martin joined in the game. Together, calling themselves the Sarkies Brothers, they bought the Hôtel de l'Europe, which is located on the seafront of Farquhar Street, and renamed it the Oriental Hotel. Brother No. 3, Aviet, was persuaded to climb on board, and he became the manager of Eastern Hotel.

View Crag Hotel, Penang Hill in a larger map

Even as the hotel business in Penang took off, the brothers were scouting for other premises. In 1887, they found a large bungalow at the junction of Beach Road and Bras Basah Road in Singapore. It belonged to the famous Arab trader Mohamad Alsagoff, who had a number of businesses in the area. The bungalow had previously been used as a hostel for the boys studying at Raffles Institution. Borrowing the Raffles name from the institution, the Sarkies opened the Raffles Hotel in December, 1887.

Within the next few years, the Sarkies Brothers blazed a trail through Southeast Asia, opening the Kartika Wijaya Hotel in Batu, East Jawa, in 1891, the Strand Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar, in 1901 and Hotel Oranje (now called the Hotel Majapahit Mandarin Oriental) in Surabaya, Indonesia, in 1910. Meanwhile, up in Penng Hill, a Scotsman by the name of Captain J. Kerr had lease a plot of land and erected his bungalow named The Crag. The Sarkies brothers acquired the bungalow from Captain Kerr, and opened the Crag Hotel there in 1895 (I come across some newspaper articles mentioning that it opened in 1929, which is a bit far-fetched, as by then only one Sarkies Brother was alive. I suppose the year was derived from the inscription on the main bungalow of the hotel, which was probably erected in that year).

The Crag Hotel is said to operate until the Second World War. Thereafter it fell into disuse until 1955, when the International School of Penang, commonly known as Uplands School, leased it to operate its primary boarding school. The first intake of 60 pupils began classes there in mid January, 1955. The Uplands School occupied Crag Hotel and Grace Dieu not too far away, until 1977.

Apart from a brief use as the film set for the movie Indochine in 1991, the Crag Hotel site has been in disuse since then.

Updates on the Crag Hotel

11 November 2012
According to a friend of mine, Boey CKS, there appears to be no progress on the development of Crag Hotel after the deal was signed (per last update below). The entire place was overrun with weeds and shrubs. If left in this neglected state, the buildings will be consumed by vegetation in 5 years. There was a transmission tower in the vicinity, but that also has been removed.

Approaching Crag Hotel
Approaching Crag Hotel (1 November 2012)
Author: © Boey CKS

View from the top of the steps of Crag Hotel
View from the top of the steps of Crag Hotel (1 November 2012)
Author: © Boey CKS

Former film set for Indochine at Crag Hotel
Former film set for Indochine at Crag Hotel (1 November 2012)
Author: © Boey CKS

View from within Crag Hotel
View from within Crag Hotel (1 November 2012)
Author: © Boey CKS

The compound of Crag Hotel: there was once a football field here
The compound of Crag Hotel: there was once a football field here (1 November 2012)
Author: © Boey CKS

The verandah at Crag Hotel
The verandah at Crag Hotel
Author: © Boey CKS

The verandah was used in a scene in the movie Indochine, where actress Catherine Deneuve appeared as Madame Devries.

28 May 2011
Developer Sri Nisuh Sdn Bhd won the bid to develop Crag Hotel. The hotel would be called the Amancrag Resort. It will be managed by the Aman Group of Hotels, which also runs the Amanpuri in Phuket and the Aman at the Summer Palace in Beijing. The redevelopment project will cost RM37 million and the hotel is expected to open 36 months (3 years) from now. The historic building will be preserved and converted into a restaurant with a lounge bar. The resort will also include a world-class health facility and spa which is open to guests as well as walk-in patrons.

30 August 2010
On 1 June, 2009, the state government of Penang issued a tender for the redevelopment of Crag Hotel. The tender was closed due to financial and technical reasons. Now the state government is offering the hotel through a Request For Proposal (RFP), to be submitted to the State Secretariat by 30 August, 2010. Only comapnies with a minimum paid-up capital of US$100,000 will be considered for the proposed redevelopment. This is one of the avenues the state is undertaking to generate revenue, through Public Private Partnerships.

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